Even someone who was not an aficionado of the hobby could see that the model railway had been beautifully constructed. It depicted a small marshalling yard, somewhere out in a bleak countryside, set into a low depression between banks of grass, fringed with hedgerow trees and separated from all that lay beyond by a barbed wire fence. Four sidings fanned out from a loop of track off a single-track line. There were no buildings, save for the representation of a single box-like structure of the terrapin type, beside which the neat model of a British Rail van stood parked. Gidley had cleverly damaged the nearside wheel arch of this, which he had then painted in a dull rusty colour.
The place was depicted a cold winter morning, lit by a cool blue spot-lamp that threw the shadows of the model figures long. A tiny electric floodlight on a trellised gantry shone down upon the scene, its scale yellow beam throwing its own faint shadow at forty-five degrees to those of the blue spot. A thin layer of white had been sprayed over everything, signifying frost, and there were patches of clear varnish, which reflected the lights as if they were iced water surfaces. From a culvert, beneath a stone arch, underneath the track-bed, a small stream ran frozen to the edge of the board.
And nothing was out of place. All was just as it might have been, in that imagined and remembered place, in that remembered and imagined time, which was Gidley’s present.
The detail was amazing. Tiny fence-posts held up strands of silver wire, knotted with barbs, tensioned as is the real thing. The trees were intricate in their bare winter branches. A credible bird perched upon the roof of the dilapidated temporary building. The model figures, two of them, stood silent in the dawn-like light, one blowing upon his hands, the other tilted slightly, as if he moved from foot to foot to keep the cold from rising through his shoes. Gidley’s wife, hovering uncertainly at his shoulder as he sat beside the model, had asked him what their names were, which had irritated him somewhat. They were not people to have names, and histories. They were representations only, made of plastic and painted in acrylics, clear varnished in semi-matt. Yet after she had asked, names crept out of his unconscious mind, as if they had waited there to be called forth, and he began to hear the voices with which they spoke.
Gidley operated the system. He brought in short trains pulled by small locomotives which he uncoupled in the loop and ran around their wagons. These he then shunted into one or other of the sidings. Later, as the story developed, other small engines came, and left more wagons, or collected those that had been abandoned before, or left them behind, without explanation. One of the engines emitted small puffs of blue smoke from its chimney, from burning oil dripped upon a heating element hidden within the plastic body.
When he had finished the construction, Gidley played hour after hour, day after day, over the weeks, and into months. He played all that he had made and built. He knew the minutest detail of its story. He knew the broken pipe that leaked dark painted water. He knew the oily puddle beside the terrapin building. He knew the new fence post where the farmer had made repairs. He knew the patched tarmac and the section of rail that had been renewed. He knew each tree and branch, and stone, and each flanged wheel, and he knew the minds of the two men, standing in the cold of the early dawn, and he remembered what they had just said to each other.
Throughout it all the British Rail van and the model figures remained unmoved, throwing their long shadows beneath the cool blue spot-lamp which did not rise like a sun, nor set like one. Neither did the ice patches thaw, nor did the frosty covering over the grass and on the tarmac of the yard dissipate in the warmth of an imagined day, and Gidley played on alone, the same curve of darkness wrapped around his back, stuck in the story of his cold blue morning.
The Cold Blue Morning of Gidley Jones was read by Lin Sagovsky at the Liars' League Fact & Fiction event on Tuesday 8 March 2011 at the Phoenix, Cavendish Sq., London
*From The Author*
Model trains have long been a part of my life. I myself used to have a train set. I get taken to model railway shows by a friend of mine who still does. The town I grew up in was laced with railways. It has always struck me that model railways are narratives of a sort, so 'Gidley Jones' is about my fifth attempt to write a story based on one (a sixth has already followed). This story was inspired by an actual model railway I saw at Hawick late last year. My new book, A Penny Spitfire, draws heavily on images of the old brewery railways of Burton Upon Trent.
Brindley Hallam Dennis has lived in Cumbria for over 30 years. He has been writing fiction for about 10. Under a variety of names, he has won prizes for both fiction and poetry, had a (short) play performed, and works at times as a garden labourer, university Creative Writing tutor, and bookseller.
Lin Sagovsky’s credits include talking books, TV narrations and BBC R4/World Service programmes a-plenty. She’s equally passionate about taking her actor/playwright background to all corners of the business world via her consultancy Play4Real, helping businesspeople use voice and body to create presence and fun in their working lives.